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Dondi Rollins

By Rita J. Egan

It was a dream come true at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts. “Dreamgirls” opened on the Main Stage last Saturday, and with a talented cast, showstopping numbers and sparkling costumes, it had everything one would expect from a musical.

A scene from ‘Dreamgirls’

Set in the 1960s and ’70s, the story follows three female singers from Chicago, Effie, Deena and Lorell, as they evolve from the Dreamettes — singing backup for a popular rhythm and blues singer named Jimmy Early — to the Dreams headlining shows on their own. Through song and a bit of dialogue, the audience gets a glimpse into the girls’ relationship, and watches as the three young women fall in love with the men in their lives: Jimmy, songwriter C.C. and Curtis, the group’s manager. 

The show also touches on the struggles of black singers to find a place on the pop charts in the ‘60s, while facing segregation in the South and watching as white pop music stars rerecorded their music.

“Dreamgirls” premiered on Broadway in December 1981 and ran for nearly four years, winning six Tony Awards. In 2006, a movie based on the musical was released starring Beyoncé, Jennifer Hudson, Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx. 

With book and lyrics by Tom Eyen and music by Henry Krieger, Ronald Green III masterfully directs a talented cast of 22 actors in SPAC’s latest production. The local presentation originated at The Noel S. Ruiz Theatre at the CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale in September last year under the direction of Patrick Grossman, and many of the original cast members, sets and costumes remain the same.

A scene from ‘Dreamgirls’

Crystal Fauntleroy (Effie), Aisha Phillip (Deena) and Amanda Camille (Lorell) blend beautifully together as the Dreamettes/Dreams, and when Effie is fired from the group, Steffy Jolin (Michelle) effortlessly replaces her. The actors are excellent in the musical numbers “Move (You’re Steppin’ on My Heart),” “Dreamgirls” and “One Night Only.”

Fauntleroy is dynamic as Effie, portraying her with just the right amount of attitude and strength, and shines in every number. During the emotional “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” she delivers the song with all the passion audience members expect from this number. For anyone who has ever suffered a broken heart, be warned, tissues will be needed.

As the musical progresses, Phillip transitions from timid backup singer, to confident front woman with ease. After Curtis decides he wants a singer with a softer voice leading the group, believing the sound will be more acceptable to pop audiences, he moves Deena to the lead spot and Effie to the back. Phillip has a melodic singing voice that is fit for this role. This is especially apparent during the tender duo with Curtis, “When I First Saw You.”

A scene from ‘Dreamgirls’

Camille is sassy as Lorell, and she has the opportunity to show off her powerful voice during “Ain’t No Party.” Jolin as Michelle embodies the spirit of a girl group singer. Her stunning smile and the way she carries herself seems to say, “I don’t care if I’m not the lead singer, I’m a star.”

The ladies are not the only ones who are front and center in this show as the male actors have exceptional stage presence. Dondi Rollins is on fire as he plays a James Brown-inspired Jimmy. Rollins sings and dances his way into the hearts of the audience, especially with the high energy “Fake Your Way to the Top.”

David William Hughes is convincing as the slick Curtis, and his smooth vocals help to deliver a swoon-worthy performance. It’s no surprise that both Effie and Deena fall for their manager. 

Londell Collier is a sweet and endearing C.C., and his vocals are just as sweet, especially when he starts off the ensemble number “Family.”

Hughes, Rollins, Collier and Kevin Knight as Marty, Jimmy’s manager, sound fantastic together during “Cadillac Car.” Seneca Bell plays the masters of ceremony with flair, Justin Steele as Tiny Joe Dixon adds to the sensational vocals, and the whole ensemble rounds out the cast perfectly.

The musical has its comedic moments, too. After Jimmy and friends think they have a hit with “Cadillac Car,” Hans Paul Hendrickson appears on stage as a Pat Boone-inspired character singing the song and looking as wholesome as a ‘50s sitcom character. During the number “I Want You Baby,” Rollins is hysterical as he portrays a restrained Jimmy during a show in a whites-only club in Miami.

Once again, SPAC has produced a musical worthy of Broadway, and those behind the scenes also deserve to be applauded. The fast-paced musical is filled with fun dance moves choreographed by Milan McGouldrick, and conductor Melissa Coyle and the theater musicians magnificently accompany the singers on each number. Green, doubling as costume designer, also ensures all the bright colors and sparkling attire of the era are represented beautifully.

The Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts, located at 2 E. Main St., Smithtown will present “Dreamgirls” through June 17. Running time is 2 1/2 hours with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $38 adults, $34 seniors, $25 students. For more information or to order, call 631-724-3700 or visit www.smithtownpac.org.

LEAVE US IN PEACE — WE JUST WANT TO DO PLAYS! TracyLynn Conner, Dondi Rollins and Morgan Howell Rumble in a scene from ‘Dark’

By Heidi Sutton

When a One-Act Play Festival receives 415 submissions, it cannot be easy to choose just a handful. But that’s exactly what Theatre Three’s Festival of One-Act Plays founder and Executive Artistic Director Jeffrey Sanzel was tasked with doing this year and the result is extraordinary. Showcasing seven original works, the annual festival opened last weekend for a 10-performance run.

“For the first time on any stage, these works come to life,” explained Sanzel, who also serves as director. “These are premieres; they are ‘firsts.’ A comedy [is] followed by a drama, a farce by an experimental work …” in a two-hour marathon in the cozy setting of The Ronald F. Peierls Theatre on the Second Stage, a space so intimate that it “allows the audience to breathe the same air as these … characters. There is no wall. There is no division.”

Steve McCoy and Dylan Robert Poulos in a scene from ‘At the Circus’

The show kicks off with Chip Bolcik’s “At the Circus,” starring veteran actor Steve McCoy and festival newcomer Dylan Robert Poulos. In an ironic twist, a trapeze artist (McCoy) and a clown (Poulos) have grown tired of life in the circus and dream of a life of normalcy, of running away with the audience. They long to have a house with a window to look out of, a driveway, the opportunity to drive to the grocery store. “They have no idea how lucky they are, do they?” wonders Poulos as he looks longingly into the crowd, giving nod to the old adage “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.”

Next up is “Interview with the First Family” by Tom Slot, a behind-the-scenes reality TV look at what really happened in the Garden of Eden and where they are now. Adam (Antoine Jones) is a surfer, Eve (Susan Emory) works at a bakery — “People can’t get enough of my apple pie,” Cain (Morgan Howell Rumble) is a convict doing time for killing his brother Abel and God (Linda May) is just sitting back seeing how the world spins and working on her stand up act. Her biggest regret? Creating the mosquito. 

“Plumb Desire,” written by Patrick Gabridge, is a hilarious take on how hard it is to find a good handyman these days and the relationships that develop. Darius (played by Steve Wangner) has found such a man in Jackson (Dondi Rollins), a plumber who has been renovating his bathroom. Jackson hasn’t shown up lately so Darius tracks him down and tries to woo him back with flowers and a six pack of beer. “I’ve been searching for a plumber for so long and you are the one,” he whines, adding, “Do you remember when we   replaced all the vents on the radiators?” Jackson finally breaks down and admits that “sometimes plumbers can be flaky — it comes with the territory.” Will he be back on Monday to finish the job?

TracyLynn Conner and Meg Bush in a scene from ‘Class”

Comedy switches to drama with Andrea Fleck Clardy’s “After Class.” Madison (Meg Bush in a powerful performance) is a mentally disturbed student who speaks of bringing a gun she’s nicknamed “Kim” to class as her teacher Amy Clausen (TracyLynn Connor) struggles with handling the scary situation.  

After intermission, “Bird Feed” by Melanie Acampora takes center stage. Three pigeons sit on a ledge in Manhattan chatting. It’s Georgie’s (Susan Emory) birthday — she’s two years old today. Her friends Bertha (Meg Bush) and Rayna (Nicole Bianco) want to take her out to celebrate when Bertha overhears someone saying that the average life span of a pigeon is just two and half years, leading to a contemplation on birthdays and mortality.  

There’s a mole loose in the world of acting in Jack McCleland’s “Dark.” It’s open hunting season and actors are being picked off one by one. Every time they find a hiding spot, they are mysteriously found and shot to death. Three actors — Steve (Morgan Howell Rumble), Meg (TracyLynn Conner) and understudy Carl (Dondi Rollins) are holed up in a warehouse and are being ordered to come out. “Leave us in peace! We’re actors — we just want to do plays!” they plead. One last warm up and they venture outside and the snitch is finally revealed as Ethel Merman’s rendition of “No Business Like Show Business” plays jubilantly in the background.

Meg Bush, Nicole Bianco and Susan Emory in a scene from ‘Bird Feed’

Sanzel saves the best for last with Charles West’s courtroom spoof, “Home Versus the Holidays.” A man is on trial for waving a sword at a church group singing Christmas carols in front of his home. The audience is sworn in as the jury and the judge (Linda May) calls the first witness to the stand, the chaperone to the group (Steve Wangner).

After the district attorney (Nicole Bianco) asks him some questions, the defense lawyer (Antoine Jones) is allowed to cross-examine and hilarity ensues. Using visuals, song lyrics and the alleged weapon, Jones turns the Christmas spirit on its head in a stunning performance that must be seen to be believed. You’ll be in stitches long after the show ends.

With an excellent lineup and incredible cast, this festival is not to be missed. Get your ticket before they’re sold out.

The cast: Nicole Bianco, Meg Bush, TracyLynn Conner, Susan Emory, Antoine Jones, Linda May, Steve McCoy, Dylan Robert Poulos, Dondi Rollins, Morgan Howell Rumble, Steve Wangner

Sponsored by Lippencott Financial Group, Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson will present The 21st Annual Festival of One-Act Plays through May 6. Contains adult language and subject matter. Parental discretion is advised. Running time is two hours with one 15-minute intermission. Tickets are $20. To order, call the box office at 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.

All photos by Peter Lanscombe, Theatre Three Productions Inc.

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